How to tackle a difficult conversation
I’ve got two boys, 11 and 9 who live with me most of the time but see their dad on Tuesday night and every second weekend from Thursday to Sunday. They are both doing ok with the arrangements. They are really active and love all sports. Our eldest started playing rugby a few years ago on a Sunday morning at a local club. He enjoys it and it’s something he can do with his dad, so I encouraged it initially. I’m now concerned about him playing a contact sport as he gets older, and the game gets more physical. There’s lots of reports of long-term head injuries and conflicting advice about how safe it is for people to play contact rugby.
My younger son isn’t that bothered about it, but he goes along to training because that’s what his elder brother does. I really don’t want him to get sucked into it too.
My ex just dismissed my concerns and says that they all enjoy it and that it won’t do him any harm. Last week our son had a bad fall and seemed quite shaken when he came home. How do you suggest I address this issue with my ex and get him to have a proper conversation about it?
Concerned mother, Richmond.
Dear Concerned mother
Thanks for writing in. And as a mother of a Rugby playing child I understand your concern on many levels. When we are co-parenting often the hardest things to do is to make decisions together, especially when we have different ideas of things that have a risk associated with them.
As you're on speaking terms, then it would be worth trying a technique that we teach at The Co-Parent Way around making decisions together. Find a time and date for you to meet. Somewhere that's neutral. Agree that you're meeting to talk about Rugby. Go with an open mind and ask him what his thoughts are about your boys playing Rugby. Don't lead the conversation, be completely open to what he is saying. Listen and show him that you're listening by not interrupting him. Let him completely finish what he has to say, even if it means staying quiet for longer than is comfortable for you. By doing that, he will feel heard and seen and therefore more able to listen to your concerns.
When it's your turn ask him if he will listen to the end. Start with the points that you agree with him about. Perhaps that might be that you love watching the boys play a team sport, or that you notice how passionate your oldest one is about the game. Acknowledge that you agree with him on those points. And then use language that is neutral when voicing your concerns. So instead of using emotionally led statements or statements that start with 'you or you should', start with words like, 'it seems like'.
This way you won't invoke an emotional response in him and you are more likely to have your concerns heard.
Explain that you want to find a solution and not just stop your son playing Rugby (especially if your son wants to continue) and try to find a way forward together that works well.
The listening techniques are crucial though in having your opinion and concerns heard and not just batted away.
I hope this helps.